01.11.2009

BDAV Building Detail Alert

Ensure that your drawings and specifications don’t lead to failures like this one....

by Tim Adams, FBDAV

From time to time ones gaze is caught by a vision that causes a double take of disbelief. One such occasion occurred during my daily commute recently.

A new building in a prominent central Melbourne location should always be an opportunity for the design and construction industry to show off and demonstrate its mastery of technology, functionality, and aesthetics. A successful outcome requires a concerted effort from all participants. The building owner must be as interested in the result as the designer, the builder, all the trades, the occupants and the approval authorities.

The ship is easy to sink if even the smallest cracks occur at any point of the voyage of delivery. A starting point where the owner or developer is not going to maintain a long term interest in the project is a key determinant of whether the team will be given leadership of the quality needed to reach a level of excellence. Since, in our world of large-scale projects, this is very rarely the case, the application to the task of others involved needs to be that much more focused.

Design professionals in all disciplines including services consultants need to work collaboratively to ensure that all required infrastructure is seamlessly integrated into a carefully considered composition. Provided this is achieved at the design and documentation phases it should be reasonably straightforward for builders and contractors to deliver a high quality completed building.

With the changes to methods of project delivery where builders are now construction managers, contract administration by architects is now undertaken by project managers and contractors carry out disjointed trade packages all conspire against the participants having an involved interest in the end results.

It can only be assumed that something along these lines has occurred in this recently completed building. The pointy end, the bow, has not been resolved in a way which gives you confidence that the building is seaworthy. It will surely mean that the building does not gain the love and respect of its users or the community, and will at best need a premature visit to dry dock for repairs or at worst will end up being scuttled before its envisaged use by date.

Surface mounted electrical switch, balcony drainage and exposed downpipe, air conditioning condenser unit with insulated supply and return piping all appear to have arrived in their final positions without any effective design resolution. Balustrade held back from slab edge suggests that structural cantilever is not designed to support balcony live loads beyond the balustrade
Surface mounted electrical switch, balcony drainage and exposed downpipe, air conditioning condenser unit with insulated supply and return piping all appear to have arrived in their final positions without any effective design resolution. Balustrade held back from slab edge suggests that structural cantilever is not designed to support balcony live loads beyond the balustrade - Tim Adams

Feedback #1

Subsequent to publishing the above article, the following feedback was received from two members:

Dear Tim

Thank you again for the fine article, in the last “BDAV NEWS”. Your articles should be taken up by other organisations to remind us all to be thoughtful in our work.

One of the common problems we all have experienced is that, over a period of time, we get into larger projects with the experiences and abilities that refer back to smaller projects.

Substantial buildings, even large houses, need every part of the work to be thought about and recorded.

One of the common problems I am seeing is the fact that plumbing and electrical work is left to the trades.

In a substantial building, the architect, translated from the Greek, the Head Technician, needs to take control of these areas.

Thanks to our fine education system, we know more than the basics.

In substantial buildings, the design of services should mirror the expected life of a building.

Electrical and plumbing services should be designed to allow for replacement or alteration.

Is there anything more sadder than to see a 20 year old building torn apart to replace faulty plumbing, because someone in the past saved the client $200 in detailing plans.

Please keep writing, even about things that seem basic, as inevitably it’s the basic things we often get wrong.

I look on your articles as heroic work, as it reflects a person “who would gladly learn and gladly teach”.

Yours sincerely
Charles Lithoxopoulos,  C Litho Design

Feedback #2

Dear Tim

I have just had delivery of the BDAV News, and your article hit the nail right on the head. This is one of my pet hates also.

I have a file of these “dont’s” that I have seen recently, and educate my staff so that they are always thinking, and on the ball.

What frustrates me is that these blunders are so obvious, even at the early design stages and just should not happen at all. Maybe the brief has changed somewhere from the spec.

Surely Councils must have conditions in the planning permit that prohibits this from happening.

Keep up the good reporting.

Kind Regards
Roy Hodgson FBDAV,  Roy Hodgson Design Pty Ltd

In a subsequent email, Roy Hodgson also wrote:

I read with interest, within the last edition of BDAV News, Tim Adams’ article on Building Detail Alert describing inappropriate (or for that matter lack of) detailing to buildings. I have also observed similar across a number of recently completed projects that I pass daily on my way to the office.

I liken it to thoughtfully hanging a Van Gogh or a Cezanne by belting it into the wall with a dirty great big nail at the top. It’s been carefully and lovingly created, sold and bought, it’s now displayed for all to admire, it can still be admired but it’s just not right, it has been damaged….and in the majority of cases for buildings, it’s easily avoidable!

Most of us would have had a planning permit issued with conditions clause stating something similar to “No plant, equipment, services or architectural features other than those shown on the endorsed plans are permitted without the written consent of the responsible authority”. These planning conditions are not there to be ignored or abused.

Due to contract engagement or other constraints such as project delivery the building’s designer may, in some cases, not be involved with the selection of service consultants engaged to carry out electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, fire or civil works or other components that may end up in a ‘best fit’ situation without scrutinising through proper design checking procedures and then being signed off.

If you have engaged or are involved with service consultants, you should have control of what goes where, so it goes without saying that you ensure that all their work is methodically checked and amended prior to going out for tender. This will assist in preventing the builder or trades changing things on the fly to suit themselves, and help avoid costly rectification works.

One possible way to assist in avoiding these situations, if you do not have control or know of the location of the proposed services, is to place appropriate notation on your plans and/or within specifications similar to that of the planning conditions note stating that “No plant, equipment or services are to be visibly located when viewed from the street or neighbouring properties without the written approval of the Building Designer”. If anything, at least it is possible that it may alert the builder, trades, developer or owners to this common design issue.

Kind Regards
Roy Hodgson FBDAV,  Roy Hodgson Design Pty Ltd

Surface mounted electrical switches with draping electrical chords, copper water piping connecting to the hot water units are located in a manner that obviously has had no thought to the desired outcome.  The attempt to cover up an offending exposed downpipe within the outdoor sitting/balcony says a lot of what the owner thinks of its final placement
Surface mounted electrical switches with draping electrical chords, copper water piping connecting to the hot water units are located in a manner that obviously has had no thought to the desired outcome. The attempt to cover up an offending exposed downpipe within the outdoor sitting/balcony says a lot of what the owner thinks of its final placement - Roy Hodgson, FBDAV
An electrical switchboard located at edge of a 2.4m high retaining wall without a safety rail or any consideration for access to allow for maintenance personnel is an accident waiting to happen
An electrical switchboard located at edge of a 2.4m high retaining wall without a safety rail or any consideration for access to allow for maintenance personnel is an accident waiting to happen - Roy Hodgson, FBDAV
Electrical, gas and fire booster cabinets were originally dull grey cabinets and later clad with timber in an attempt to disguise them at this prominent location being the main entrance to the apartments and offices on the ground floor.  Downpipe locations and balcony drainage seem to have been not given any true thought in the designs outcome.  The positioning of the air conditioning condenser units behind the thoughtfully detailed glazed tinted balustrades is totally bewildering
Electrical, gas and fire booster cabinets were originally dull grey cabinets and later clad with timber in an attempt to disguise them at this prominent location being the main entrance to the apartments and offices on the ground floor. Downpipe locations and balcony drainage seem to have been not given any true thought in the designs outcome. The positioning of the air conditioning condenser units behind the thoughtfully detailed glazed tinted balustrades is totally bewildering - Roy Hodgson, FBDAV